Timey Wimey

The Oldest Sci-Fi Show Is About To Put Its Hero To A Huge Test

Why “Boom” is a turning point for the 15th Doctor.

A scene from 'Doctor Who' Season 1, Episode 3, "Boom."

Doctor Who's latest era has gotten off to an extremely enthusiastic, if wobbly, start. The long-running BBC sci-fi series finally dove into its long-awaited new season last week with a pair of flawed but undeniably bold episodes, which smoothly picked up where the show's 2023 Christmas special, "The Church on Ruby Road," left off. Now, this week sees Doctor Who follow up the wacky adventures that were “Space Babies” and “The Devil's Chord” with its latest chapter, titled “Boom.”

The episode follows the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) as he steps on a landmine and finds himself trapped — unable to move, run, or rely on any of his usual, lighthearted tricks. It's a lean, tense hour of television, and it's noticeably darker than any of the Gatwa-led Doctor Who episodes that have preceded it. While it might not seem like it on the surface, “Boom” is also the biggest test that Gatwa's Fifteenth Doctor has faced up to this point. Here’s why this episode is so essential for Who fans, and the new era in general. No spoilers ahead.

“Boom” traps the Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) in an unthinkably nightmarish situation.

BBC Studios

“Boom” was, notably, penned by former Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat. The writer, who took over the BBC sci-fi series for several years after Russell T. Davies stepped away from it at the end of David Tennant's initial run, hasn't written an episode of Who since he handed the showrunning reigns over to Chris Chibnall in 2017. That means “Boom” is Moffat's first new Doctor Who adventure in seven years, and that alone makes it a noteworthy episode. Not only is Moffat a former Who showrunner, but he's also penned more memorable standalone installments of the show than any other living writer.

From “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Blink” to "Listen" and “Heaven Sent,” Moffat has been behind more than a few of the most acclaimed Who episodes of the show's modern era. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise then that there has been a certain level of heightened anticipation heading into "Boom" among fans who are aware of his track record. The episode's clever yet straightforward premise also makes it one that is uniquely suited to Moffat's strengths as a writer, one of which just so happens to be his ability to strip Doctor Who back to its barest essentials and still deliver incredible moments of tension and drama (see: “Blink,” “Listen”).

“Boom” is important for another reason as well: It's the first episode of Ncuti Gatwa's Doctor Who tenure not penned by Russell T. Davies. Moffat's Who predecessor returned in 2021 to lead the sci-fi series into a new era, and that's exactly what he's done. Davies has so far written every new Doctor Who episode of the past six months, including all of the show's 60th-anniversary specials, its 2023 Christmas special, and both “Space Babies” and “The Devil's Chord.” In other words, “Boom,” is the first Who episode that actually tests whether or not Gatwa's Fifteenth Doctor is interesting and developed enough for a writer other than Davies to be able to tell a compelling story that revolves around him.

“Boom” tests whether or not Doctor Who’s latest era can support multiple creative voices.

BBC Studios

Only two episodes of Doctor Who's newest season weren't written by Russell T. Davies. “Boom” is the first, while its sixth installment, titled “Rogue,” was co-penned by Loki Season 1 director Kate Herron and Briony Redman. Davies is the sole credited writer for all of the season's other episodes, which means fans won't get many opportunities over the next few weeks to see Ncuti Gatwa's Doctor and Millie Gibson's Ruby Sunday written by anyone other than their creator.

On the one hand, it's exciting to know how much of this year's Doctor Who season is the product of one creative voice. On the other hand, the season's small number of writers means that there will be fewer opportunities for its characters to be pushed and explored in ways that could never have occurred to Davies. “Boom,” which pushes Gatwa's Doctor into darker and more emotional places than any other Doctor Who episode to date, does just that.

New episodes of Doctor Who premiere Fridays on Disney+.

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